In 1900, Florida had 530,000 residents. We are now close to 22 million and that number grows by almost 1,000 per day. New residents mean new developments and conversion of what was once forest, field or agriculture to pavement, rooftops, and expanding roadways. For our wildlife, this is an ongoing threat as critical habitat is lost and roadkill increases. For ourselves, natural lands increase our quality of life.
With the support of FWF, the State of Florida has acted to save our natural lands for many years. The Environmentally Endangered Lands program commenced in the 1980s. Later came Preservation 2000 and we now have the Florida Forever program. Florida Forever uses state funding to purchase, from willing sellers, either the land outright or a perpetual conservation easement to disallow development and keep the land in private ownership. Approximately 2.5 million acres have been saved in Florida by Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever.
Including federal land such as Everglades National Park and our National Forests, approximately 28% of Florida is in some form of conservation status. Additionally, many counties have land conservation programs which are created by voters taxing themselves. Examples are Alachua County Forever, which has saved over 20,000 acres in and around Gainesville, and Conservation Collier which has preserved over 4,000 acres near Naples.
FWF has continuously advocated for these important programs and land protection in general. We spearheaded amending the Florida Constitution to increase the financial benefits for private landowners who agreed to save their land using conservation easements. We were also part of the successful effort to mandate funding for the Florida Forever program after it was cut.
Florida is blessed with species and natural areas found in no other place and there is only one way to ensure that future Floridians and visitors have the opportunity to enjoy them. From the freshwater springs of North Florida to the home range of the rare Florida panther in the Southwest, protecting natural land is vital.
Moreover, natural landscapes and open spaces provide groundwater recharge areas to refill our aquifers, where most of us get our drinking water.